n6GU9YuThis week’s question is an All-Play! So, put on your fancy advice-giving hat and get ready to play along.

This week’s question is born of all the painful pastor stories we have told and heard about the bad behavior of the Beloved Former Pastor — a.k.a., BFP.  Former pastors who don’t leave well — or who don’t leave completely — betray pastoral ethics. They say with their actions, “My relationship with my former congregants is more important than our collegial bond forged at ordination.” In plain language, misbehaving BFPs are a real pain and can make our ministry among a congregation a living hell.

Every one of us pastors will become a Beloved Former Pastor, sooner or later, likely multiple times. So, here’s your question, should you choose to answer it:

From your own experience with BFPs, what commandment will you vow to keep when you become a Beloved Former Pastor?  

Please word your answer in the form of a commandment.

Our list begins with BFP commandments from our executive director, Martha Spong:

  • Thou shalt not comment on former parishioner’s Facebook posts. (Particularly, don’t be the first one to “like” pictures of their kids or their vacations. It looks like you have nothing else to do.)
  • Thou shalt be prepared to feel the normal, healthy grief of parting and to employ the tonic of engaging in whatever comes next, be it serving a new congregation or cultivating a new vocation/hobby/practice in retirement.

As a pastor who will retire in a month from parish ministry, I add these:

  • Thou shalt ever not show up at worship services, funeral services or visitations, or church events unless you are invited by the current pastor. Living nearby is not an excuse. “Because I care” and “we are friends” don’t work either.
  • Thou shalt always make an advance courtesy call to the current pastor if you happen to be in town and would like to be present in the worship service or at a church event. Extra colleague stars for your call to make a request rather than announcing your “done deal” plans.
  • Thou shalt never use former congregation and what “they expect” from you as an excuse to do what they expect from you. You don’t serve them anymore.

More Matriarch wisdom:

Jennifer Burns Lewis: Thou shalt keep a very firm boundary for that first year of former pastorness. Love makes room for new relationships to form

Jan Edminston: Thou shalt not visit “old church friends” in the hospital. It’s still a pastoral call if you do it.

 Jeanne Redshaw: I vow to communicate openly and regularly with the current pastor to clarify my role and their expections of me in the congregation that I participate in.

Sue Ivany: Thou shalt not depart from the congregation with multiple promises to members saying, “Of course, I’ll conduct your funeral when the time comes.”

 Dee EisenhauerThou shalt not talk about the current pastor with former parishioners.

In professional church leadership, supportive colleagues are a priceless gift. Let us be unconditionally supportive of our clergy colleagues by setting healthy boundaries with our former congregations and all the dear ones we have served along the way.

Now it’s your turn, dear Matriarchs-for-a-Day!

From your own experience with BFPs, what commandment will you vow to keep when you become a Beloved Former Pastor?  

Please offer your own wise commandment to your future BFP self here in the comments.  

Lest we forget when the time comes.


Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor serving in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.


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12 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: Advice to your Future BFP Self

  1. Thou shall not go to the new restaurant with your foodie friends from your past church post.

    Thou shall not go fishing with your buddies from your former congregation.

    Thou shall not answer the call at 2 am to rush to the hospital ER for your former congregation.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thou shall NOT engage in gossip – juicy, negative or otherwise – with former parishioners concerning new Pastor and how they do things versus how you did things; nor will thou offer to “have a talk with the new Pastor” to set them straight.

    Thou SHALL – when the time comes – blissfully enjoy thy retirement!!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thou shalt never forget the heat and hurt of being overlooked in favor of the BFP, and in the remembering – be a gift to the current pastor. Open, honest conversation, always.

    Thou shalt never sneak about a former parish. If the current pastor can’t know, then you shouldn’t be there.

    Thou shalt love thy successor.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Thou shalt be graciously clear with the congregation that you will no longer be their pastor and you will not be able to preside at their wedding or funeral.

    Thou shalt NOT ever say, if asked to preside, “you will have to ask your new pastor,” as that will simply make her look ungenerous if she chooses to say “no.”

    Thou shalt gently decline if a former parishioner calls to ask you for pastoral care and immediately notify the new pastor to assure that she is aware of the need.

    Thou shalt move far away, delete your former parishioners from social media, and manage your own grief.

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  5. Thou shalt make thyself available for helpful info-sharing with thine successor if the successor asks, and wilt not be offended if the successor does not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! This has been so helpful when starting a new call, when it happened, and made my work much harder when it didn’t.

      Like

  6. Thou shalt not continue to come to the same Text Study as the current pastor, forever and ever and ever, even though you are not preaching anymore (sigh!). It robs her of the opportunity to freely talk with colleagues about issues related to the congregation.

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  7. I will not meet socially or pastorally will other staff members still working at the church with the new pastor and Session.

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  8. Thou shalt become such good friends/colleagues with your successor that they welcome your very respectful love for the members of their congregation and take the initiative to invite you whenever possible to participate in things. (Thank you Kitty Hahn Campanella for being the best BFP anyone could ask for! May I be blessed to have an equally grand relationship with the person who follows me!)

    Like

  9. Thou shalt speak words of praise about your successor in the hearing of all your former congregants. (Have a BFP who has done this – such a compliment!)

    Thou shalt have friendships outside of the congregation, so that when you leave, you are able to rely on those friends to support you during the grief of departure.

    Thou shalt continue to refer to your previous congregation in respectful terms, even if your call there ended poorly or your relationship with the new pastor is not a good one. For none of the body of Christ is built up when we slander various parts of that body.

    Like

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